The First Amendment, Satellite Imagery and National Security

The correspondence that I have received regarding the Bangor sub photos has sparked a much-needed conversation in the world of Post 9/11 National Security.

The Navy Times’ investigative reporter discovered that the prop photos first reported on MonsterMaritime.com were not taken from a satellite but by an airplane on a mapping run of the area. The company that took the photos made them available to the public (for a price) then Microsoft Live Search picked them up and broadcast them on the internet for anyone to see. I am certain that I am not the first person to see this photo but I was just the first person to point it out and say, “Whoa, I don’t think that the military is going to be happy with this…” Satellites are one thing, but frankly, I am surprised that the air space over sensitive bases like Bangor is not better controlled.

A month or so later, I was interviewed about my discovery of the photos by a reporter for the Navy Times. He asked me what I thought about this accidental discovery of sensitive data on the internet and I remarked that my pointing this out on my blog was in no way malicious but it certainly has raised the issue in some pretty high places. Hence the controversy.

I recently made a comment on another person’s blog regarding the decision of the Seattle Post Intelligencer not to publish photos of suspicious persons on the Washington State Ferries that were released to the media by the FBI. My personal opinion as to whether the photos should have been published was not at issue. I defended the PI’s First Amendment right to choose not to publish the photos and have since born the brunt of all kinds of negative comments from readers. The Washington State Ferries takes security very seriously and this is of course a serious matter. But that is not the issue. I hold that a news organization has a duty to report the news. It does not have a duty to publish photos that may or may not violate any person’s rights. However, it can publish them if it wishes to and risk the consequences. The PI reported the release of the photos but chose not to publish them. It is a difficult ethical question to deal with. I think the Seattle PI dealt with it in a ethical manner.
What are the needs of National Security with regard to the internet and what is the danger to the Bill of Rights? Where do we draw the line? Is it domestic wire tapping without a warrant? Is a spy satellite directed at a back yard BBQ in Oklahoma really a good use of our resources?

We (the US) throw tons of money at all kind of things in the name of Homeland Security and we get conflicting reports from the news media and various government agencies about the effectiveness of these efforts and the value of funding these programs. As with anything else in our society, security has become a big industry and many entities are circling around like sharks looking to pick up the drops of blood that fall into the pond. After 9/11, fear and anger have been tools used to manipulate the populace and bend them back and forth for gain whether political or corporate. A person can be pretty smart. People in a group are pretty dumb. Our political and corporate systems prey on this.

When the government first started doling out the security dollars, states, cities and towns fought tooth and nail for their piece of the security pie. As with many aspects of our system, this security money was dumped into the pork barrel and we have seen all manner of “projects” that are touted as in the interest of Homeland Security. We never “racially profile” anybody but we are building a fence across our southern frontier but not our northern one. Hmmm…
I fear mob mentality. I fear giving up the civil rights that our country’s founding fathers worked so hard to design for us. I fear giving away the rights that our armed forces have sacrificed to protect. I fear a future where the majority of our country’s citizens are OK with being told what to think and what to believe. I was discussing this topic with an electrician who was doing some work for me last week and he summed it up pretty well. He said, “Personally, I would rather die free than die afraid.”

Me too……